For the first time, 10by10 takes a pre-season look at the NIHL2 league in the South.
Huge thanks to guest writers Don McDermott and Laurence Thorn who have put together this fantastic set of previews, looking at what we know so far about each squad.
Part 1 takes a look at the first 7 teams (in alphabetical order), so we’ve got Basingstoke to Haringey for you today.
Following a tough season in South 2 West in which they picked up just three wins, Basingstoke have bolstered their lineup with three players from the now-defunct Wightlink Buccaneers. Experienced Canadian blue-liner Blair Dubyk brings goal-scoring ability as well as defensive expertise, having notched 68 points in 34 games over the past three seasons. Buffalo netminder Sam Calder has departed for Guildford, but Basingstoke have found a capable replacement between the pipes in Aaron Craft. Marcus Russell is the final member of the Isle of Wight trio to join Basingstoke.
Basingstoke have also signed former u14 defenseman George Summerbell, who since 2013 has spent most of his time playing in the Swindon youth system, although most recently he was with the Oxford u18s and u20s, in addition to making his debut with the England u16s. His record shows that he may become a key player for Basingstoke in the seasons to come.
As their most recently announced signed, Hallam Wilson returns to the club after a season playing up a league for Oxford City, where he scored nine goals in 25 games.
Basingstoke Buffalo start their season with a home tie against Haringey Huskies on Sunday 10th September.
After propping up South 1 in the last two seasons, the Bracknell Hornets drop down to South 2 for the new campaign, and with a nicely strengthened squad could be dark horses to challenge for silverware.
In net, former Streatham stalwart Will Sanderson drops down a division and joins the club. He’ll be joined by James Richardson, who was an Invicta Dynamo last campaign. There’s another former Streatham stalwart on the blueline as Jack Tarczycki joins the club. He should provide veteran leadership, as should another key addition, Carl “Scooter” Graham, who arrives from the Chelmsford Chieftains.
Moving to the forwards, the Ealey-Newman brothers, Ben and Josh, should provide firepower. Three more players with Streatham links also join the Hornets up front. American import Sean Scarbrough and Welsh sharpshooter Steve Fisher should both score a lot of goals in South 2, while former Haringey man Conor Sheehan returns to the division after playing just three league games for Streatham in South 1 last season.
If all of the new signings can gel together and adapt to the level of the new South 2, the Hornets could be outside bets to challenge for the league title – or at the very least home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Bristol are coming off of a solid season, finishing as runners-up in the South 1 West and reaching the semi-finals of the playoffs. This season’s squad should have a similar look—in fact, it will look identical as every player from last season has returned. But with the shakeup to UK ice hockey over the offseason, South 2 will be a tougher league and time may prove that the Pitbulls have made an error in not signing any additional playmakers.
The club will continue to rely heavily on Olly Shone and Adi Smith to provide them with goals after the duo combined for 37 points, including 11 goals from Shone and 9 from Smith. Grant Richardson is another key re-signing. He scored 12 points while appearing in only 12 games as he was out on loan to Oxford City and then to Manchester Phoenix.
Some good news for the club is that after being forced to play out of Oxford’s ice rink for the past five seasons, this could potentially be the last season that they play home games outside of Bristol. The Facebook group Bristol Needs a Rink announced in July that the local planning authority had been given permission to have the final say on whether to go ahead with plans for a new rink, and given the local planning authority’s backing of the proposal in April, a new ice rink seems to be in Bristol’s future.
Bristol Pitbulls have already had their first pre-season challenge game when they travelled to Widnes Wild on Sunday 27th Aug (lost 8-3) and will play visit NIHL1 side MK Thunder on Sunday 3rd September. Their first league action will be a home tie against Slough Jets on Sunday 10th September.
Cardiff Fire 2 have been quiet on their player announcements, but reportedly the ever-young Alan Armour will return for his 25th senior season and Cardiff have signed GB u16s goalie Lewis Davies on a two way between the South 1 and South 2 Cardiff teams.
Speaking to Fire team owner Mark Cuddihy, we understand that the plan is to have a very young and hungry team of mostly teenagers with a handful of older and (hopefully) wiser heads to bring experience.
Certainly Cardiff supporters will be thrilled with the strong coaching lineup that has been announced. The Fire set-up for the South 1 and 2 teams has a wealth of experience with Mark Cuddihy overseeing the entire program, aided by ex-Swindon Wildcats player Mark Smith. Hometown boy and last season’s assistant coach Gareth Dixon will step up to take on the head coach role this year for the South 2 team, and he is joined by netminding coach Mike Brabon and power-skating coach Sam Motton.
Cardiff Fire will start their campaign on Saturday 23rd September with a home fixture against Slough Jets.
After five dominant seasons in NIHL South 1, the league restructuring sees the Chelmsford Chieftains dropping down to South 2 for the upcoming campaign. With a roster packed full of quality, they look to be among the title favourites.
The twins Cameron and Grant Bartlett have almost telepathic chemistry on the ice, and picked up a combined 80 league points last season in South 1. They return to the club and form a core of players with South 1 experience, along with netminder Sonny Phillips, defencemen Matt France and Robert Veares, and fellow forwards Ross Brears, Darren Brown and Anthony Leone.
New import Filip Supa has put up good numbers in the NIHL North over the last four seasons, while the likes of teenage netminder Billy Cook, defencemen Gary Brown and Will Polston and forwards Elliott Dervish and Thomas Wilson return from last season’s Chelmsford Warriors side (now merged with the Chieftains).
If the mix of South 1 players dropping down, established South 2 players and a new import gel together well, the Chieftains will more than likely be fighting for the league title this season – and could even be the number one favourite for the crown.
Chelmsford will be the last team to start their league campaign when they visit Swindon on Sunday 1st October.
Hockey has risen to new heights in Guildford since the finale of the 2016/17 season, as Guildford Flames move into the top flight for the first time in club history, and the Guildford Junior Ice Hockey Club ice their first NIHL team, known as Guildford Phoenix.
Starting a new team is never easy but Guildford have put their best skate forward, announcing former Flames forward Andy Hemmings as player-coach. Since then the signings have come quickly, with the Phoenix squad now including 23 players in addition to Hemmings. The coach is joined by former Flames teammate Scott Greenfield, who joins the team from Solent Devils. At 25 years of age, Greenfield is senior to all the other players announced so far, again excluding Hemmings.
Sam Calder, a 6’2” goalkeeper, was an early signing for Guildford, who have since then added another netminder in Jake Stoodley. A fair few of Guildford’s players are current or former Guildford Junior players, including former Guildford u18 captain Oliver Denis, defenseman Joe Stephenson of the u20s and blue-liner Monty Gailer, who returns to Guildford after three years with Solent. A few other players arrive from Solent, including Luke Tull and Malik Adeniran-Adams. The Phoenix have also purloined d-man Henry Aiken from Lee Valley Lions, while signing Nick Minhinnick from Haringey, Michael Krogh from Bracknell Hornets and Harry Hatfield, who has been icing with Slough Jets and Army for the last two seasons.
Bailey Wootton will add his South 1 experience to the squad after spending two years with Invicta Dynamos, during which time he made one appearance in the EPIHL while on loan to Manchester Phoenix. Joshua Abbott will be expected to provide goals for Guildford after notching 27 goals and an equal number of assists last season with Haringey.
Guildford Phoenix kick off their first ever NIHL season with a home gaime against Oxford City Stars on Saturday 16th September.
After the demise of Haringey Racers, a new team has risen out of the ashes to provide ice hockey at the Alexandra Palace in the form of Haringey Huskies. Racers head coach Daniel Sampson continues on with the Huskies and has built up a strong-looking side, combining Racers stalwarts with youth players and new additions.
Stuart Appleby, who won Players Player, Coaches Player and Fans Player of the Season for the Racers following the 2016/17 campaign, has returned and will bring firepower to the side. Haringey supporters will also be delighted that Ben Osborne stays on, as he has been a consistent scorer for Haringey, while 6’5” blue-liner Bryn Griffiths makes his return to senior ice hockey after playing university hockey as captain of the Cardiff Redhawks. Another excellent signing is Daniel Clayton, who previously shared his time between Racers and Streatham IHC and notched 28 points in 19 games last season. Last season’s captain and all-time leader in PIM for the Racers, Ali Band also returns after missing part of last season with a concussion.
Three former Chelmsford Warriors players have also signed on with the Huskies. Forward Ashlee Cave departs Chelmsford after just one season, while Stephen Woodford and James Parfitt, who has been coaching the Chelmsford u13s, each return to ice hockey after some time off.
Former Slough Jets left wing Calum Heath has made the move to the Ally Pally, Samuel Jackson joins the team after icing last season with Chelmsford Warriors and netminder Jussi Lynch-Grut signs on after spending last season in Canada playing for the Komoka Dragons and Tottenham Steam.
Haringey fans should also be seeing more of Mark Voslinsky. The 16-year-old youth player scored 30 goals with 16 assists last season as captain of the Haringey Wolves, while making 16 appearances for the Racers and finding the back of the net twice.
Haringey Huskies start their NIHL2 league season with a visit to Basingstoke Buffalo on Sunday 10th September.
Tomorrow morning we’ll have Part 2 where we’ll continue with Invicta to Swindon.
You’ll be able to find all the remaining articles in our 10by10 season previews as they are released, together with all the previous seasons’ articles on the following link:
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Darren Elliott – captain of the Oxford City Stars gives us his take to the season and takes ahead to the playoffs.
I think the seasons gone really well – we’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve which is a top four finish. The directors are really happy, Simon’s really happy, I think the players are really happy. But although we are happy as a team, I think we have also got an element of disappointment because if you take that 6 game losing streak that we went through before Christmas out of the mix – maybe even just getting a few points out of that then we would have been right up in the mix of the top 2 or 3.
Obviously that six game losing streak was a massive low point for the team, but we’ve picked ourselves up well since then. In terms of high points – I think what we’ve achieved off the ice this season has been massive. Filling the rink last weekend in our final game of the season against London was fantastic and gave us a great feeling ahead of the playoffs. I just think that the way that the club has developed this year has really been a massive high for us.
Steamy (Alan Green) has been a massive influence for us again and obviously his announced retirement is a big blow to the club. I also think that Dom Hopkins has been a huge signing for us. It’s been a long time since we have had a British D-man of his calibre. It’s great that we are becoming a club that can attract the likes of Dom and Jaro (Cesky). Jesse Lye hasn’t been around long with us, but he’s going from strength to strength and I think if we can keep him then next year he’ll be a really good player in this league.
Duffy has been a real standout recently – he has really stepped up to the plate and been massive in goal when he was called for. I think Jake Florey has also had a great season this year. He’s really got himself fit this season and it’s made such a difference. Unfortunately Joonas (Liimatainen) has been around as much as we would want him to be – but he’s a great player. He hasn’t been at his best for the last month or two and just needs a bit of a kick in the ass!
Looking ahead to the playoffs. I think it’s going to be a great first round game. We always used to fear London and I don’t think we do any more. I think this is a really good draw for us though – I don’t think we would have fancied MK as they have been a real bogey team for us, and Solent – it’s just so hit and miss. When you go to Solent you are just on the back foot straight away. So it’s a good draw for us – and it’s a great draw for the fans. They are a feisty team, they are bump and grind and chippy – so very similar to us. I think we’ve got to try and come back from Lee Valley at least a goal up so that we can really push hard in our barn and not be on the defensive. I think they’ll be pumped for it, we’ll be pumped for it and it will just be a fantastic series to watch. We’re missing Dax and Jaro which is a big blow, but I’m back, Whillock is back and Joonas should be back so we’ll have almost full squad. But they’ve got players like Lack who’s physically fit and can just skate all night long, so I’m not sure how much our bigger squad size will matter.
It will be a tough one to call, but we’re looking forward to it and we’re pleased that we’ll be going to London first and having the second leg at home this year. It’s a bit of a killer that if we get through this we’ll probably end up with Chelmo in the semis. Then again it would be really something to not beat them at all in the regular season and go and get a result in the playoffs! They are beatable – you just have to be 100% on your game to do it.
Oxford City Stars travel to Lee Valley to take on the London Raiders on Saturday 25th March – face off 5:30pm. They then host the return leg on Sunday 26th March – face off 6:15pm.
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Head coach Alan Blyth takes a look at the London Raiders’ season so far.
Again its been a bit of a roller coaster season in London. We started off well and were starting to exceed expectations, In Net Michael Gray was fantastic in the start of the season until he got banned on the Island. We started the season without a recognised back up so therefore had the help of Guildford U18 Netminder Harry Buckingham who has Improved massively this season and I am sure you will see him starting to appears on NIHL game sheets soon. We recruited Euan King mid way through the season after he made himself available due to not being totally happy across London in Streatham. Euan is one of the best Netminders in the league and has proved time and time again why we tried so hard to sign him. Unfortunately we couldn’t keep both Michael and Euan both happy as starter and that saw a mid season split which left us with Harry once again steeping up.
In Defence John Connolly and Julian Smith were solid at the back and showed both their worth and the reason that they were much sort after property in the summer. Returnees Jack Cooper and Matt France have also had a steady season in Gold And Blue. We had a mid season arrival and departure of Ross Connolly. Ross had all the tools, he had the potential to be the best in the league and we wish him all the best for the future. Callum Burnett came of age at the turn of the year and has shown his potential when he has iced for us.
Forward wise, Captain Tom Davis has once again had a productive season for us, Supporting import Marek Nahlik and numerous other forwards in the process. He is probably the fittest I can ever remember. We had the departure of import Kamil Kinkor after just a few weeks of the season and that saw us bring in Slavomir Buda, Slavo is a very likable lad who works very hard every single shift. It took him a little time to bed in and get used to the English life style but I think its safe to say he is now settled. James Pentecost’s conundrum of juggling his high flying job with a spot on the Raiders roster was just too much and therefore we reluctantly saw and end to that partnership.
Ziggy (Beesley) has been a star all season long. His work rate has been undoubted while on the ice, despite his uni lifestyle he manages to juggle everything and still perform week in and week out. Alan Lack’s departure from Basingstoke was their loss and our gain, once again he was a fans’ favourite in the Famous Colours. Stuart Tait and Brandon Miles joined mid season and have been solid appointments too. Sam Roberts once again has been a real joy to work with too. Doesn’t matter what line, situation or place he is put in, he will give 110% every shift.
That just leaves JJ Pitchley: so much talent and ability but often distracted by others. Next season will be a big one for him and he needs to get away from taking needless penalties but he knows that!
Playoffs will be a real toe to toe fight for us and its definitely something that the guys are looking forward too.
London Raiders will host Oxford City Stars in the round of the playoffs on Saturday 25th March – face off 5:30pm and then travel to Oxford for the return leg on Sunday 26th March – face off 6:15pm.
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Forward and team alternate captain Adam Wood give us his take on the season so far at Streatham IHC.
Although there are clearly plenty of talking points here in Streatham this season it is actually quite hard to summarise anything as everything is a bit of a blur with one season having the feeling of two very different seasons.
As a club, Streatham are no strangers to turbulent times and those who have been around the game a while are aware that positive change doesn’t happen overnight. However, with the unexpected arrival of Coach Cornish that is a clear step in the right direction.
He is a self-proclaimed ‘hockey nerd’ but that is exactly what you want in a coach. He loves the game of hockey and expects his team to show that passion. This isn’t a Disney movie and it is a big ask to flip everything on its head in a matter of a few months but the foundations are there.
Cornish has definitely changed things up a bit. For a start, you have the likes of myself and Joe Johnston playing defence now. Also despite the individual skill we have on the team we aim to play a simple brand of hockey. Something else notable is that although our coach may have made his name as a tough guy he recognises that the game is moving away from that and is focusing the team on speed and skill, something different to last years imposing team.
We have a great team who are still new to each other and working out who gels best together. As a team our training, preparation and desire has improved dramatically. It is just a matter of time for everything else to fall into place.
It is hard to single out stand out players in this new squad as we have such a variety of styles now. However, for me it would be our Captain. Joe is a natural goal scorer but Cornish is utilising his awareness, vision and smarts now in defence. It’s definitely not to do with his speed or backwards skating ability! Out of his comfort zone and as we have recently found out in his final season, he continues to lead by example, playing hard, smart and with passion. We all hear that passion in his long winded team talks!
Looking ahead to the playoffs and it is open for the taking. We have seen plenty of upsets throughout the league this year. With the team we have though we will be confident and prepared for the coming weeks. It definitely won’t be dull.
Streatham IHC travel to Solent Devils for the first round of the playoffs on Saturday 25th March – face off 5pm. On Sunday 26th March they host the return leg – face off 6:45pm.
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Solent Devils defenceman and alternate captain Mason Wild takes a look at the season so far.
For the Solent Devils this season is pretty much split into two halves in terms of our performance. The first half was very slow and frustrating, we always found ourselves in close, low scoring games regardless of the team in front of us. Our problem wasn’t keeping the puck out of our net but putting it in theirs. There were many of those cases where we winning going into the 3rd period and then losing the game by 1 goal, it was very disheartening.
Losing Mitchell Murray was a big blow to the team, apart from his renowned temper, Mitchell is a great goal scorer and bring lots of energy both on the ice and in the changing room. His absence was noticed. However, due to the unfortunate circumstances of the Isle of Wight Raiders shutting down, we were able sign Aidan Doughty. Aidan is a great signing and right of the bat he showed exactly what he is capable of. The only problem was throughout the league, teams with bigger budgets were able to sign multiple Isle of Wight players.
Although, this did allow us to take the position of having the only small rink in the league. Having a small rink definitely gives you a home advantage as it usually takes teams a period to get used to the size of the pad but we weren’t able to capitalise on this. We went into the Christmas break without a home win, this doesn’t feel great for both the players and fans.
After the break, it felt a new start and before the deadline, we were able to sign Drew Campbell who had previously been a key player for the Devils. We started the new year with a double header against London Raiders. On paper, they had more depth in their team but we still saw an opportunity to grab some much needed points but we were not equal to the task and it felt like we had fallen into our previous ways. After that weekend, Alex changed up all the lines to hopefully spark some positivity into our performance and it did what he hoped. We managed to get our first home win against Invicta, along with beating Oxford away the next day. We also scored 18 goals over the weekend which was a massive improvement in comparison with our lack of scoring earlier in the season.
This confidence boost lead to a strong finish for us causing many upsets in the league and also achieving a 5 game winning streak. We finished the season in 6th and we also had the potential to move into 5th, had we beat Invicta, which I personally think is a great accomplishment considering the budget that Alex has to work with.
There are some keys players I want to mention that allowed us to achieve our position. The first is Richard Facey, he has a massive impact both off and on the ice and has been a consistent goal scorer throughout the season claiming 48 pts putting him in the top 4 in the league. New signing Aidan Doughty, as previously mention, is a huge asset to our team. He is always a hard working 2-way player but also managed to find the back of the net consistently in the second half of the season. Another useful 2-way player is Mark Pitts, who is fast and strong on the puck. Matt Lawday who also joined at the start of the season is a natural goal scorer and could always be relied on to put the puck away. We saw a massive effect from signing Drew Campbell mid-way through the season. He may be on the older side but his experience showed to be a big positive for us, it may not be a coincidence but we definitely started winning once Drew joined. Defensively, we were strongly lead by our captain Alex Cole and backed up with his younger brother Chico
who saved us many times between the pipes.
We have a young team (Drew may have ruined our average a bit) but most of our youngest players make up the 3rd line. The 3rd line this season were exactly what Alex could ask for and allowed us to roll 3 lines. I don’t know their exact plus minus but I feel confident it would be in the plus.
As I said in my pre-season article “Alex runs a very high intensity, system-oriented program which is a great foundation for putting together a competitive team. You’ll always hear him coaching even when he’s on the rink and he has been known to grab a couple of points in most games.” He did exactly that.
If you had asked me if we could beat Streatham in the playoffs at the beginning of this season, I wouldn’t have been confident but based on our current form and since we have beaten them twice this season it’s definitely do-able. That being said, they have a very strong team, hence why they are 3rd, and if we are not up for it on Saturday we could end up with a big loss like the one we endured before Christmas. As far as I’m aware the Devils haven’t got past the first round before, but let’s see if we can make it happen this weekend.
Solent devils will host Streatham IHC in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday 25th March – face off 5pm. They then travel to Streatham for the return leg on Sunday 26th March – face off 6:45pm.
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Invicta Dynamos defenceman Tommy Ralph talks to us about their season so far and looks ahead to the playoffs.
Note that this article was written before the cup final weekend
At the start of the year I believe everyone had us picked as the team to beat, on paper it’s evident to see we are the best team in the league and myself and everyone at the club still believes this. When we show up there’s not a team in the league that can skate with us for 60 minutes… the problem for us this year has been consistency. Something I have to applaud the league champions Chelmsford for, they’ve had an excellent season.
Obviously at the start of the year we started our campaign in fine form with a win away at Chelmsford, shutting them out 2-0, we won 4 in a row before losing our first game with a depleted squad. After that, we had serious injury problems, I myself have been sidelined twice and I have rarely been injured prior to this season. Luck is a part of hockey, and as a team we have not had much of it this year in regard to injuries. We’ve had key players miss a lot of games and none more so important than Damien King who I believe is the best goalie in the league. I have to applaud John Dibble and James Richardson for their tremendous efforts in goal in Kinger’s absence giving us a chance to win most games but losing your no.1 for so much of the season is always a struggle. Luckily we appear to have Kinger back for the remainder of the campaign, touch wood!
Our best run this season came before the Christmas break and the first two games back after that where we won 8 in a row and went 9 unbeaten. I believe we had a short squad for all of those games so that run really showed that with our backs to the wall this team has character and is able to win hockey games. The first game back after Christmas was a highlight for me so far this season. We were part of an excellent game of hockey with Chelmsford at their place which we won 8-6 scoring 4 goals in the last 10 minutes to come from behind. It was hardly a defensive spectacle but it was a great game and a good advert for the league in general. This one sticks in my mind because it put us within 3 points of Chelmsford. After everything we’d been through as a team and we thought we could still go on to challenge for the title which we should be doing anyway. Unfortunately a lack of consistency hindered our chances again and the following weekend we lost both games and the league was over after that barring a Chelmsford disaster which wasn’t going to happen. Ironically the worst part of the season in my eyes came a week after our best when we lost those games away to Solent and the next day at home to Streatham which just isn’t acceptable for a team of our calibre.
Although the league has been lost to Chelmsford again we find ourselves in a position to win silverware in the Cup final where will face off with Chelmsford again. I am confident we can get the job done despite our lack of consistency this year. If everyone shows up and is ready to play our best hockey we can overcome the Chieftains as our head to head record with them this season has us on top with 3W 2L 1D. Fingers crossed we should have all our players available, committed to playing and ready to go. Luckily after our performances in the Semi-Final legs which we won 12-4 on aggregate we may be hitting our stride at the right time. Adam Rehak and Ashley Jackson have been excellent players for us offensively this year and have forged a great chemistry on their line along with Mason Webster. The late addition of Scott Bailey has been a great pick up as well. He’s a smart and skilled two way forward that has strengthened our top 6 forward contingent significantly.
Looking ahead to the playoffs our position as the 2nd placed team is still not guaranteed at the time of writing this so we are unsure of who we will face in the first round just yet. However, the best part about playoff hockey is that anything can happen. Usually this can work against the better teams but with our lack of consistency this year it may also work in our favour. Providing the best Invicta team turns up to play throughout the playoffs I don’t see any reason why we can’t claim a playoff championship and hopefully add to the league cup we are eyeing up. Winning 2 out of 3 trophies isn’t bad although myself and my team mates do see this season as a disappointment to miss out on the league title again.
Invicta Dynamos host Milton Keynes Thunder in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday 25th March – face off 5:15pm. They then travel to MK for the return leg on Sunday 26th March – face off 5pm.
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Milton Keynes stalwart Ross Bowers talks about the MK Thunders season so far and looks ahead to their playoff game against Invicta Dynamos this weekend.
This season has been a very frustrating one for Thunder. We have games when we complete and even out-play the top teams in this league and then the very next night get beat by the bottom teams.
We have struggled with consistency and not being able to ice the same squad two games in a row doesn’t help. It’s the nature of the beast when players don’t get paid and have other commitments. We don’t have the luxury of being able to compete with the budgets of the bigger teams over player signings. We have to rely on local talent.
During the season we managed to bring in player coach Nicky Chinn and also add promising youngster Hallden Barnes-Garner. Hallden has been a great find, scoring some big goals and making the most of his first season at senior hockey. Apart from Alex Whyte, who has had a really good season, I think the team as a whole are disappointed with how the season has panned out.
Manager Dave Fairhurst has tried his hardest to put a winning side together and if we are honest we have underachieved. Losing to better teams is one thing, but losing because you aren’t working hard enough or willing to compete is a lot harder to deal with. We have also suffered with injuries, both myself and captain Jamie Line have both been in cast during the year and Chinny has been suffering with illness.
The biggest positive of this year is that it isn’t over! We know we have a big challenge ahead having Invicta in the playoffs, but with that comes a great opportunity to salvage something from this season and answer a few questions. With our team getting back to full fitness and having a point to prove I like to think we are a match for anyone.
Milton Keynes Thunder will visit Invicta Dynamos in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday 25th March – face off 5:15pm. They will then host the Dynamos in the return fixture on Sunday 26th March – face off 5pm.
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Bracknell Hornets netminder Danny Milton talks to us about their season so far and looks ahead to their playoff games against Chelmsford Chieftains this weekend.
The season again has been a bit of a disappointment. Every team in the league has improved including ourselves, we just haven’t improved enough. We’ve been flooded by injuries, going through 6 imports for a low budget team, bad/unlucky bounces, but most of all our team just hasn’t played a full 60 minutes at a time.
I think most coaches/players/fans would agree that we have kept nearly every team close apart from 5-10 minutes of a game where we just switch off and that’s when teams capitalise and punish us.
I think the standout player for us this season has been Martyn Gray. He goes about his job quietly, he does nothing spectacular but he always does the small things right. He’s calm and smart on the puck and his positioning is great. I think he alone has stopped at least 10 goals from the way he breaks up plays. As a goalie I can say that’s a massive help and much appreciated!
I guess high point of the season are probably the second half of the year. Apart from the Chelmsford game, we have got a few points of teams, and we have run every team close, only losing to 1-3 goals keeping it close. The boys have become a lot closer group over the season and team moral in the changing is high, which is a big help with performances on the ice.
I think a special mention should also go to Jordan Gregory and Michal Oravec. Since they have come in at Christmas they have helped us turn the team around and have given a chance to get a result every night.
Now onto the playoffs, the game that everyone is already bypassing! There is no doubt Chelmsford are by far the best team in the league and are expected to go on and win the playoffs. Winning the cup and the league will no doubt have given them even more of a drive to go on and win. However, I know that myself and the boys are going to put up a fight and show that we’re not going to a pushover. We’ve had a couple of weeks off games to recover and get to work at training so hopefully we will be able to give them a good, close game at home and see where that takes us into the away leg on Sunday!
Bracknell Hornets host Chelmsford Chieftains on Saturday March 25th – face off at 6pm. They then travel to Chelmsford for the return leg on Sunday March 26th – face off at 6:30pm.
Posted in 10-by-10
Chelmsford Chieftains’ Head Coach Sean Easton has had a great season so far. He tells us about it, together with a look ahead to the playoffs.
We entered the season going into a new territory, with the possibility that we may come away empty handed, being written off by fans, clubs and even 482days (sorry). I had taken a bold move and stuck my neck out to replace experienced players like Kinger, Jules, Brears and Ayling with young up and coming talent. It was nothing against the players I had chosen not to re-sign I just felt it was time for these younger players to be given an opportunity (just like I was given at 16 to play EPL). If our league can not give younger players the opportunity then what hope is there for them? It was also an opportunity for myself to establish a new era for the Chieftains under my watch, as I was criticised last season about being in Gary Clarke and Deno Birrell’s shadow with the same team they assembled after winning the quad in my first year in charge.
It wasn’t some players cup of tea, Ryan Morgan struggled with the commitment to hockey and real life, while Oleg (Lascenko) was gifted an opportunity at EPL – which I will never stand in the way of. We lost 2 experienced players in Billy and Charlie Phillips which left a big hole in our amour. But signing depth in quality saw us through and we settled to be a solid team on and off the ice.
We had a great team ethos, everyone playing for each other and the commitment level was something else. We had great discipline in how we played and with low penalty minutes. We have also been very fortunate not to have (touch wood) any serious injuries throughout the campaign, and that’s because they’re athletes in this team, they are physically fit and look after their bodies.
Best newcomer for the chieftains is a serious toss up between Sonny Philips and Jake Sylvester. Sonny has competed to get to where he is, maybe I protected him too much at the start of the season but he proved to me and everyone else he was not here to make up numbers, he was here to win.
Jake Sylvester is highly talked about in other teams, a high offensive skill set and knows where the back of the net is. His line “green line” has been formidable this season. The link up Jake has with Ollie (Baldock) and Huska is scary, and when they’re on it I don’t think many teams can stop them. People say he has only got the points he’s got because of Huska, but how has Huska become the top scorer in the league playing with youngsters?! They still have to have the skill set to find each other. Not many players would put up the points they have even when playing with the best players in the league.
Go to guys: Huska has had an excellent year, topping the league scoring charts and bettering his tally from last season. Huska has turned up and played in every game, just missing the first few games of the season after recovering from treatment and he has not looked back. He plays like he is 21 still!
Hammond has also had a great year, rolling back the years with his scoring touch and has bought a lot to the table for the younger team this year.
I’ve got something good to say about everyone, this team has been exactly that. Everyone has had an important role to play and they have excelled.
Great to win the league again and great to have done it in a consistent fashion, turning up and competing against every team. Our aim is to again be in the contest for every trophy once again this season. (Authors note: this was written before their victory in the cup last weekend).
Chelmsford Chieftains visit Bracknell Hornets on Saturday March 25th – face off at 6pm. They then host the return leg on Sunday March 26th – face off at 6:30pm.
Posted in 10-by-10
So the 10by10 team previews are all done – but obviously we need a 10th article or the whole 10by10 tag really won’t work this year! So that means I get to stick my neck out again and predict the final league standings for the 9 teams in NIHL1 South this season.
To be honest – I’ve been trying to work this out in my head for weeks as the rosters have been announced and I think this is the hardest season to predict of any since I started watching the league. I don’t think the league has ever been more competitive than it looks to be this season with 7 teams who I think have a genuine shot at being in the top 4 when it’s all done at the ebnd of March. So basically, I’ll be bloody amazed if I am even close to correct! I have reordered the positions in my head more times than I want to think about. I’m still not completely happy with them but in the end this is what I have come up with.
This is my best guess, based on the rosters announced so far this season. In the end I think consistent performance are going to be the biggest key for all the teams this season. There will be no easy matches and injuries and suspensions could also have a major part in deciding where the teams will end up at the end of the season. One or two goal games will be common and any team that can be on the right side of the scorelines in those tight games on a regular basis is going to do well.
Agree, disagree – let me know what you think!
We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.
9th Place – Solent Devils
Player/coach Alex Murray has put together a very young team this year and they have lost some of their offensive firepower with George Norcliffe off to Wightlink and no Ralf Circenis announced yet. They also have no imports announced- although last season’s non-EIHA trained players didn’t really make as much of an impact as might have been hoped. There could of course be signings still to come which make a real difference to the team and help push them up the table, but with what they have so far, I think they will be the team to miss out on a playoff spot (although I think it won’t be decided until late on). The one bit of good news is that with only 9 teams in the league this year, relegation is unlikely to be an issue so they should have a season to regroup and give the youngsters some experience without fear of going down.
8th Place – Bracknell Hornets
Bracknell Hornets will improve slightly on their 9th place finish last season, but only by a single place for me. Fielding a full team home and away will be crucial for them, as will having their new import players make an impact. Consistency in the coaching is also going to be a vital ingredient for a more successful season and I think if they can keep Kenny Redmond and he can get them organised, they’ll take points off a lot of teams. What I don’t think they will be able to do is take points week in week out which is why I have them in 8th. I think they will be in a bit of a fight with Solent for the final playoff spot but will just make it there.
7th Place – London Raiders
This is where I really started having issues with the predictions – I’m putting London in 7th but also think that with a good run they could be contenders for a top half finish. They have strengthened from last season with the signings of Julian Smith and Jacob Ranson both very much going in the positive column. The loss of the Liam Chong is a big one though – I think they will miss his spark of brilliance. With both Seb Downing and Rio Grinnell-Parke also making a move that’s a lot of creativity and energy lost. Import Kinkor will be an interesting one as there were mixed reports from him last season: sometimes brilliant but sometimes lazy. If the right Kinkor shows up – he could be huge for them. It’s going to be a tough league this year and they will need everyone on their A-game every week if they want to make it a top-half finish. Can they bring that consistency for the whole 7 months of the league season – it’s a tough ask and I think they will just drop too many points.
6th Place – Milton Keynes Thunder
Another team that I looked at and thought ‘am I really predicting them as low as 6th?’. MK have made some huge signings this year – and there is a real buzz about them from talking to other players and fans in the league. The additions of Cameron Wynn and Jakub Klima up front added to the signings of Ross Green and Greg Randall in defence all suggest that MK is determined to improve on last year’s 6th place spot. I’d also say that there is a lot of quality in some of the returning players – Jamie Line and Ross Bowers are never to be sniffed at and players like Nidal Phillips, Tom Mboya and the Goode brothers will skate all night and outwork opponents off the cie sometimes. The issue for me is whether they will be as strong away as they likely will be at home – how many of the big names will be travelling each week? I’ve heard from several sources that bodies on the ice may be an issue for away games which suggests that along with Nick Poole (who usually can’t travel due to Lightning committments), some of their other big names will also be AWOL for the likes of the long trip to Invicta and Chelmsford on a Sunday night. If these rumours are wrong and all of these guys play 80-90% of the games then I see them finishing a lot higher than 6th. But with the whole league improving, I can only see them making top half if they can keep a consistent team at every game, home and away.
5th Place – Oxford City Stars
Oxford City Stars were last season’s surprise package, just taking 4th spot in the final day of the season. They have also improved this season – concentrating on defensive signings with 4 new players coming in there. Ben Nethersall is one I am especially excited to see as I suspect he could be a superb signing – but with him also on a two-way with Swindon, it will be interesting whether how often he misses Stars games due to an EPL call-up. New import Joonas Liimatainen looks very strong and with them just announcing that Boris Ruzicka will also return as import injury cover that gives them a very defensive line-up. Forward import Ondrej Pekarik started slowly last season, unsurprising given his lack of hockey prior to joining Oxford – but he got stronger and stronger as the season progressed – and if he can start this season as he finished the last one will be a contender for best import in the league in my eyes. This is a team I could genuinely see taking 3rd spot in the league if they can get a consistent run going – but away form last season was a real factor for them and unless they can address that, I think they will just fall short of top four this season.
4th Place – Streatham Redskins
In some ways Streatham were another surprise package last season – but in the wrong way. Tipped by many (including me) to push Chelmsford all the way in the title race they fell disappointly short last year – although they did make both the cup final and the playoff semi-finals. They started strongly but a slump in November that lasted until the New Year put paid to their title hopes and another in March saw them slide from 3rd to 5th. New head coach Nicky Chinn will hopefully be addressing that and as long as they can avoid the injury crisis that was at least partly responsible for those slumps, I think they should be in the top 4 this season. Euan King is a great signing for him – I highly rate him and think he is one of the top netties in the league and together with Will Sanderson, I think they have the strongest netminder pairing. Otherwise the team is mostly unchanged, with the return of fans-favourite Sean Scarborough in one of the import slots the only real addition. I understand they have a couple of other import players they are looking at as well and so could be back at 2 non-EIHA players this season. They under-performed last season in the league, but with a committed team I expect them to do better this year.
3rd Place – Wightlink Raiders
Wightlink Raiders managed a 3rd place finish last season, despite being without a rink for about 3 months. That was actually a huge accomplishment – not only keeping going and keeping the team together, but in keeping their form high despite having no on-ice training sessions during that time. This season, head coach Jermey Cornish has been able to keep almost all of the squad together and relatively unchanged. They will miss Craig Tribe – but I suspect that the additions of George Norcliffe and Aiden Doughty, the latter of whom I remember as a very exciting U18 prospect before he headed across the big pond, will more than make up for that loss. I think they are one of the clubs that are genuine title challengers again this season and given how consistent they remained without training, expect big things of them when they can actually spend time (outside games) on the ice together.
Runners up – Chelmsford Chieftains
Now I suspect a lot of folks will disagree with my ordering of first and second place here! It’s not that I think Chelmsford have weakened at all – yes they have released some senior players to make way for the young guns – but those young guns are all incredibly talented and will be hungry to prove themselves. I just think this year that Invicta are stronger (see below). I truly admire Sean Easton and the Chelmsford management for sticking to their guns and bringing the kids in – that is exactly what this league should be about and I suspect most other teams would kill to have had the Chieftains problems over the summer in this respect! Chelmsford will still be the team to beat and I’m quite prepared to be proved wrong on this one. I think it will be an incredibly tight race this season and I’m almost certain they will pick up at least one of the 3 pieces of silverware available to them – just not the league this season. Which is actually a great thing for the league!
Winners – Invicta Dynamos
I think this is Invicta’s year to shine. They will have their marquee players from last season (Callum Fowler, Steve Osman and Damien King) from the drop of the first puck which will make a huge difference. Even more than that, the young set of players they recruited last season will all be one year further along in their progression – and many of them have really impressed so far. The likes of Conor Redmond, Josh Condren and Bailey Wootton all had strong first seasons and I see them only getting stronger this year. Field hockey olympian Ashley Jackson is also a big signing. In the few games he played two seasons ago, he showed he’s pretty good at the on-ice version of the game too with strong skating, superb hands and a real eye for goal. Yes, they have lost Eriks Ozollopa (my favourite import in the league last season) – but the new guy Adam Rehak’s stats make me think he will be a good replacement. I don’t think they will have it all their own way by any means. I don’t think any team is going to run away with the league this year and I also don’t think any team will make a clean sweep of the 3 trophies on offer – but this season I think they will claim the league title.
So that’s may take on it all. As I said in my opening statement – I think this is going to be one of the closest races in the league for years. I fully expect to be proved massively wrong in my predictions for at least one or two teams as this is one of the strongest and closest sets of teams I can ever remember us having. Personally, I can’t bloody wait!
Finally, a huge thanks to the 9 players and coaches who took the time to write the season previews for their teams this season. I hope you enjoyed reading them all as much as I did! A huge thanks also goes to the amazing photographers we have in our league, who take such fantastic photos and make the only difficult thing being to decide which of their amazing shots to use.
Posted in 10-by-10